Who or what inspired you to take up the piano and make it your career
I remember hearing a tape recording of Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony in my dad’s car when I was very young, and I simply could not believe how good it was. I couldn’t understand why it wasn’t being played on every radio station! The result of this exposure was that I began to experiment at an old Blüthner piano that we had in my house at the time, and soon began taking lessons with a private teacher when I was about 8 or so. And with regard to making it my career, I think composing and performing has always been such an all-consuming interest for me that I didn’t have a choice!
Who or what are the most important influences on your playing?
If I were to narrow it down to a list of three pianists, they would be Sviatoslav Richter, Murray Perahia and Krystian Zimerman. Richter for his notational precision and incomparable technique, Perahia for his extraordinary clarity, and Zimerman for his delicate phrase endings. I also admire them for their naturalness and dedication to live performance.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
I suppose one of the main challenges is that very often people tend to think of classical music as a genre or style of music, which it isn’t. I try to encourage people to both appreciate the vastness of the term, which covers many extremely diverse approaches to music making across hundreds of years, and to discover a style period that they find musically engaging, which they inevitably will if they are a curious person and maintain an open mind. I am also a staunch believer that you do not require years of music training to appreciate and enjoy classical music, and this is something else I try to communicate.
What are the particular challenges/excitements of working with an orchestra/ensemble?
I did a recording of some compositions of mine with an ensemble that I brought together last March, and really enjoyed the experience. Irish traditional music represents a major stylistic influence in my work, and so a large part of the instrumentation featured for the recording was traditional instruments such as the Uilleann Pipes, Button Accordion and Irish Harp. I found it very stimulating to work with authentic players from a completely different musical background to my own, and learnt a lot from them, especially with regard to the improvisatory ornamentation that is such an indispensible feature of Irish music.
Do you have a favourite concert venue?
I think the most attractive venue I’ve ever played was the Oak Room in the Mansion House in Dublin. It’s a small, intimate room that seats around 100 or so, with two spectacular chandeliers, as well as an oak-panelled wall decorated with the coat of arms of every Lord Mayor of Dublin since Daniel O’Connell.
Who are your favourite musicians?
A musician that I really admire is Keith Jarrett. His improvisations are always imaginative and evince a wide range of musical sources. And not only is he one of the outstanding improvisers in contemporary Jazz, he is also an accomplished classical performer, and is seemingly just as comfortable playing classical repertoire. Check out his harpsichord recording of Bach’s C-sharp minor Prelude and Fugue (Book 2 of the WTC) on YouTube to see what he is capable of. I copied out this fugue a few years back, and am familiar with many of the technical intricacies as a result; Jarrett absolutely nails them.
What is your most memorable concert experience?
Finishing out the last of my cycle of 12 Études at a concert I gave in July as part of the “10 Days in Dublin” arts festival. It had been a hectic few weeks leading up to the concert, and I had been feverishly working to get all of the music composed on time. I was worried that I had tried to fit in too much in too short a space to time for my brain to subconsciously process everything, and that as soon as I went on stage to play it would all somehow conspire against me. But the first few went reasonably well, and gradually I began to ease into the performance. And then suddenly there I was, with 11 behind me, and it really felt like I had reached the home stretch.
I had been aware during the composition of this last piece that I was not drawing 1 isolated piece to a close, but rather a cycle of 12 pieces. I tried to reflect this sense of gravity technically through the use extensive dramatic pauses in juxtaposition with a sparse, monophonic texture, both of which are salient features of the Sean-Nós singing tradition that inspired much of the cycle. This economy of material lent itself well for improvisation, and allowed me to be spontaneous in the closing moments of the concert in a manner that would have been much harder to achieve if I had continued to compose in strict polyphony.
What is your favourite music to play? To listen to?
I enjoy playing and listening to lots of different styles of music from lots of different periods. Recently I’ve been listening to Handel’s Oratorios a lot, Fantasias by Sweelinck, as well as the Bossa Nova album “Getz/Gilberto”. I hate to use the word eclectic, so I won’t use it.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
For musicians generally, try seek self-reward through intrinsic improvements in your craft, rather than improvements in ranking against your competitors.
For performers, when practicing, aim to isolate and focus on the technical and musical areas where you are weakest, and keep run-throughs of an entire piece to a bare minimum.
For composers, firstly try to accumulate a wide array of knowledge about style periods and their composers, secondly compose in imitation of the style of some of these composers, and lastly try to express your own voice and creativity through this absorbed knowledge of craft.
What are you working on at the moment?
I have just finished composing a set of 3 Continuo Songs, which I wrote as a part of collaboration with a friend of mine, Conor Leahy, who is a very talented poet. The songs vary somewhat in style; the Sean-Nós influence is still there, but the continuo harmonies are infused with exotic jazz chords and Bossa Nova-style rhythms. I’m very excited about the project, and we’re getting some of the members of the Trinity Orchestra on board for the performance. Keep an eye out for updates by following Louis Ryan Music on Facebook, or alternatively @louisryanmusic on twitter.
Louis Ryan is a 22-year-old professional composer and pianist based in Dublin. He has just completed a B.A. in music at Trinity College Dublin, where he specialised in composition and attained 1st class hons. Other relevant qualifications include a Licentiateship in piano performance held with Trinity Guildhall School of Music in London, as well as winning 1st place and a prize of 1,000 Euros in an inter-varsity piano competition at the Lord Mayor’s house in Dublin in November 2011. He has given several public recitals across Dublin, the most recent of which was given as part of the 10 Days in Dublin arts festival in the Royal Irish Academy of Music, where he premiered his cycle of 12 Études for solo piano. All 12 are now posted and available to watch on YouTube (see attached links below).
Further videos in the series can be viewed here